Government mulls reopening of schools | Sunday Observer

Government mulls reopening of schools

26 September, 2021

The re-opening of schools which have been mostly closed during 2020 and 2021, due to the raging Covid-19 world pandemic, became the focal point at the Covid-19 Task force and the Education Ministry meetings last week.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the Sunday Observer yesterday that the expectation is to complete the re-opening of all schools by November and the process should be over definitely before the end of this year.

While the Government explored the possibility of re-opening schools with least student populations soon, the Education Minister on Thursday, discussed with the Provincial Governors and District Secretaries about the modalities of preparing schools to welcome students once the green light is given by the Covid-19 Task Force headed by the President. The cleaning and disinfection of schools with the help of school staff and parents is to begin by early October.

Exact date

A senior official said an exact date to commence schools have not been decided yet, while the GCE Advanced Level 2021 and Grade five scholarship exams are scheduled to be held in November, as orignally planned.

A review of the dates to hold the two key national exams are expected in the coming weeks and it is likely the exams will be postponed further depending on the feedback of schools on the coverage of syllabus which was affected by the ongoing strike by teacher trade unions.

Addressing the media on Friday, Education Ministry Secretary Prof.Kapila Perera said schools will be re-opened under four stages, beginning from schools with less than a 200 student population.

A media briefing was organised by the Department of Government Information on Friday (24) to educate the people on re-opening of Government schools as Covid-19 figures come down to a reasonable level.

Covid-19 control, Primary Healthcare and Epidemics State Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle earlier said, when the daily new infections of Covid-19 drops to less than 1,000, the Government could think of re-opening schools. A little over 1,300 new infections were recorded on Friday.

Prof. Perera said as the Covid Delta peak seems over and the pandemic is gradually diminishing, 3884 schools will be re-opened for students from Grade 1 to 5 under the first stage.

Medical experts have recommended that this category of children need not be given the vaccination since the local figures indicate less vulnerability to develop severe Covid-19 and there is also not enough studies about the safety and other issues on the children below 12 years.

He said students in the age groups 12 to 15 and 16 to 19 will be vaccinated on the advice of pediatricians soon. The team of specialist doctors appointed to advise the Government has opined, after studying the international expertise on the subject, that children above 12 should be vaccinated against Covid-19.

In keeping with this, the vaccination of children aged 12 years and above, with underlying health issues which compromise immunity, commenced at state hospitals on Friday with a pilot project at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo.

Paediatric specialist Prof. Pujitha Wickramasinghe at a media briefing at the Presidential Media Centre on Friday highlighted the UNICEF advice that schools should be the last to close and first to open during the pandemic.

Indefinite closure

He said there has been more adverse effects than positive effects on children by the indefinite closure of schools and pre-schools, especially on young children.

“Schools serve as vital points of social interaction for primary and pre-school children. their lifestyle has completely altered by the pandemic,” Prof. Wickramasinghe said.

Lack of exercise, bad eating habits, dependence in electronic equipment, have been observed among all ages of children while there is a disturbing trend in health issues, both physical and mental.

A recent study by UNICEF reveals that re-opening of schools will not put children in greater danger or risk in contracting the virus, if proper health guidelines are followed and the good effects outweigh the bad effects.

It has also been observed that opening of a restaurant is riskier than opening a school in terms of spreading the virus. The school re-opening was also discussed at length at the Covid-19 Task Force weekly meeting which was headed by Minister Basil Rajapaksa, in the absence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly.

The recommendations of the health specialists committee on the reopening of schools was also discussed. The recommendations have already been forwarded to the Ministry of Education, the meeting was told. Minister Rajapaksa instructed that the Provincial Governors and Provincial Directors of Health should be made aware of the recommendations to ensure effective implementation at ground level.

The Task Force was told that international organisations on children, including UNICEF, as well as paediatricians in the country have said that it is not necessary to wait till the vaccination program concludes to re-open schools.

Uninterrupted education

The specialists said that schools and pre-schools should be reopened as soon as possible to ensure uninterrupted education of children and that proper health recommendations should be followed in this regard. The specialists also said the commitment and care of the parents are also vital to make this effort a success.

It was also decided at the Covid-19 Task Force to get assistance of local Government bodies and Regional Development Committees in cleaning and disinfection of schools.